A path toward social inclusion through Community Capacity Building in multicultural Australia

By Vivian Rivera

Vivian represented the University of South Australia at the 2016 OECD Forum in Paris.  


Community Capacity Building (CCB) has been a practice of OECD member countries in the context of social development, and has been regarded as an effective mechanism for moving toward a more inclusive society. CCB programs carried out in Australia have made a sound contribution in fostering communities' participation, and making steps towards more effective ways of social inclusion. CCB has the potential to bolster the qualities, knowledge and strengths of local communities to take more responsibility for their own well-being while contributing to the social and economic life of the broader society. This paper outlines CCB pathways that have the potential to build on individuals’ existing strengths and capabilities to enter the Australia’s workforce, as a means to foster active participation in the social, political and economic life and ensure greater social inclusion.


1.     Encourage employers and enterprises to promote work placement programs for new and recent arrivals who have limited or no work experience in the Australian workforce.

2.     Create a comprehensive networking framework to support migrants’ job search journey and maximise their opportunities for finding gainful employment.

3.     Implement cross-cultural training modules to bridge cultural barriers in the workforce by helping newly arrived job seekers understand the culture of Australian workplaces and standard local employment practices; and prepare employers and enterprises to maximise the opportunities for growth and development in highly diverse work environments.

4.     Develop and implement vocational training programs that combine employment related content with sufficient English language learning support.

With increasing levels of mobilisation of people across national boundaries, increased interconnectedness and globalisation, the issues of social inclusion have become far more complex, and Australia is not immune. States are presented with the challenge to handle high levels of global and regional migration and unprecedented levels of ethnic diversity, while simultaneously aiming to enhance social inclusion (Koleth 2010). Particularly in migrant-receiving countries like Australia, this has created an urgent need for fostering inclusive and participatory mechanisms that create opportunities for migrant communities to effectively take part in social, economic and political life (Noya & Clarence 2008). Australia has a longstanding history in dealing with the challenges of cultural diversity through an inclusive social policy framework which supports consistent social inclusion initiatives and interventions. Many observers have signalled that there is still an urgent need for mechanisms which incentivise social, civil and economic participation, particularly through participatory workforce entries (Buckmaster et al. 2009).

Community Capacity Building (CCB) is referred to here as a process of enabling individuals, communities, and organisations to develop and apply their skills, knowledge, strengths and competencies to become more strongly involved in wider societal life (Noya et al. 2009). This paper draws on the effective CCB practices of the existing African Australian Inclusion Program (AAIP), a Workplace Inclusion Program delivered by the Jesuit Social Services (JSS) and the National Australian Bank (NAB). It outlines the pathways to enhance migrant community’s employability skills and preparedness for Australian workplaces, as a means to create active participation in the social, political and economic life; and ensure greater social inclusion.

1. Promote work placement programs

For many migrants, particularly newly arrived, the lack of Australian employment experience is a barrier to access job opportunities (Koutsogeorgopoulou 2011). Applicants’ lack of local experience is the major determinant of job rejection; targeted experience is often the preferred attribute for employers and prevails over stellar tertiary credentials. Since new arrivals’ mentoring and training in the workplace demands the mobilisation of economic and human resources, the majority of local enterprises are naturally reluctant to take on migrants with no local job experience for purely productivity and cost-benefit reasons (AMES, 2011). This unfavourably affects the effective process of immigrants’ inclusion and participation in the host society’s social and economic life.

Workforce participation is an essential aspect in the construction of a more inclusive society. Removing barriers for migrant communities to become financially independent, productive and active citizens is a key part of this, and it is vital to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to encourage employers and enterprises to backup financially and instrumentally social inclusion programs. This includes examples like AAIP, with a focus on exposure to Australian workplaces and a long term vision toward building community capacity (Jesuit Social Services, 2013).

One prospective solution is to incentivise companies and employers to provide work experience programs for migrant job seekers who have limited or no work experience in the Australian workforce. Internships, apprenticeships and work-based training programs can be beneficial when they hold a CCB focus, enhancing newly arrived job seekers existing assets, and competencies, as opposed to the perceived ‘deficits’. Work placement schemes require a holistic approach that not only develop employment-ready skills but also stimulates self-reliance in becoming active in the labour market. Through this approach, community members and organisations are actively engaged and encouraged to use their skills, abilities, experience and available resources in the development of social and economic capital.

2. Comprehensive networking framework

Gaining employment is the cornerstone of successful social inclusion and for newly arrived migrants, finding gainful employment at the early stages of settlement is highly beneficial. The lack of meaningful networks imposes a barrier to the full participation of newly arrived migrants in Australia’s labour market (OECD, 2012) as building networks is essential to maximise newly arrived job seekers’ opportunities for finding gainful employment in Australia.

Most OECD countries strive to help newly arrived migrants and refugees establish their initial network connections through local public employment services (Froy & Pyne 2011). However, these services and their strategies need to be diversified by providing newcomers with more sustainable, constructive and inclusive channels to successfully enter the local labour market. AAIP’s intervention demonstrates that part of the right support towards building meaningful networks is the creation of a comprehensive networking framework to support migrants’ job search journey, and maximise their opportunities to enter the workforce. One key element of AAIP’s success is its commitment to providing participants with unique networking opportunities through both formal and informal events such as professional development sessions, sport and family events. It also fosters direct engagement with NAB’s staff and senior executives to build more insightful and cooperative relationships (JSS 2013). Creating more potential employer-employee meeting opportunities through formal and informal networking events is a powerful tool to create CCB. Additionally, promoting greater involvement of local firms, employment services and stakeholders in building a networking community that considers the needs of a wide range of employment sectors and anticipates the potential growth areas where recently arrived job seekers can access gainful employment is a positive step forward. There is also a need for holistic support on how to network the ‘right way'; employment services and facilitators need to tailor networking training to enhance newly arrived job seekers’ networking understanding and skills in the local context.

3. Training modules to bridge cultural barriers in the workforce

A challenge for newly arrived migrants trying to secure effective entry into Australian labour market is the limited exposure to Australian workplace culture. Migrants trying to find their first job in Australia encounter two significant barriers. Firstly, the lack of a realistic understanding of the local workplaces and their respective employment practices and operations that may differ from the practices in their countries of origin. Secondly, the existing misconceptions that may create distrust towards newly arrived job seekers’ based on ethnic or cultural background (AMES 2011:14).

Targeted and effective support for migrant communities, particularly newly arrived, to gain work in Australia and maximise opportunities to participle effectively in and contribute to the Australian social and economic life involves overcoming both structural and symbolic barriers (Caron & Merrick, 2012). In this area, the AAIP has made a remarkable contribution in overcoming symbolic barriers that are particularly concerned with cultural sensitivities. The program has put forward efforts to develop a genuine understanding of the workplace culture in Australia, whilst simultaneously fostering an interest in and understanding of participants’ culture within the workplace, among staff and participating teams.

Training modules need to raise awareness of the standard local employment practices and the local workplace culture. Simultaneously, they need to provide local employers and the workforce with a more nuanced understanding of newly arrived job seekers’ cultural traits and the barriers they face in finding gainful employment in the host society. Modules should be designed and delivered in a way that challenge cultural and ethnic stereotypes and tackle discrimination. They need to bring together local employers, enterprises and recently arrived job seekers; and nurture a more comprehensive dialogue on how to face the challenges of culturally diverse workplaces and benefit of cross-cultural working environments.

4. Integrated vocational training

Studies have shown that refugees and migrants who arrive in Australia strive to become productive and economically independent as early as possible in their settlement. However for many, a lack of local work experience and limited English language skills are considerable obstacles for gaining access to Australian employment opportunities (OECD 2012, p.10). The recognition of these barriers have pushed newly arrived migrants to pursue vocational training in Australia as an alternative pathway to access that first job opportunity (AMES 2011, p.13). Vocational training in the intended area of work is highly valuable for the preparation of newly arrived migrants to take on their first employment in Australia. This can be a particularly empowering tool when combined with the right literacy, numeracy and communication skill training, so that they can build both areas simultaneously and effectively in a complimentary way.

Investment in support learning-employment chains is required. This involves the coordination and integration of foundation skills, training, employment and lifelong learning, and engagement (JSS 2012, p.5). The AAIP’s professional training model draws on these building blocks, and has been strategic in providing opportunities for participants to strengthen their employability skills and capacities through intensive employment related training in the work place, and ESL specific training to build the language skills required in the professional environment (JSS 2013).

It is crucial that training institutions, employers and enterprises invest in the development and implementation of vocational training programs that provide employment related content to assist employment readiness, combined with English language learning and sufficient language support to achieve intended vocational and career outcomes. These vocational training schemes should draw on individual and community assets and competencies to enter the local workforce. On this basis, it should provide job-specific technical instruction, practical employment-ready skills including interview and CV preparation and understanding of workplace culture. It is essential that the framework enables migrant communities and newly arrived job seekers to develop their employability skills, build self-reliance and understand the pathways to maximize their opportunities in a competitive labour market. Finally, vocational training programs need to provide more intensive language assistance to address language barriers, and bilingual officers that support teaching and learning practices could contribute positively to improve the training delivery and the trainees’ learning experience.


Active participation in the labour force is a vital element for social inclusion. Through employment, individuals become contributors to the social, political and civil life in broader society, whilst simultaneously developing a positive sense of autonomy, independence and self-realisation which enable them to take greater control of their own lives. In the context of migration, opening up opportunities for individuals to access job opportunities from their early settlement is ideal, so that they engage in wider society, create social connections, feel part of the community and grow in their sense of belonging.  It is crucial then that the social inclusion agenda supports programs directed to providing newly arrived migrants with the right support to gain work in Australia. This should be accompanied with the promotion of CCB interventions that seek to build on individuals’ existing strengths and capabilities to enter the local workforce; and empower them to become productive, financially independent, autonomous and self-realised members of the wider Australian community.

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